The Great Greenbrier River Race just seems to get better every year. Saturday’s event was possibly the best ever in the race’s 28-year history.
A number of factors affect the overall success of an event as complicated as a triathlon. Some factors, such as the weather, are beyond anyone’s control. Last year’s race, when 496 competitors enjoyed a gorgeous spring day, was difficult to surpass. But Saturday’s race was even better, thanks to better river conditions and an even larger field of competitors.
The event surpassed 500 participants for the first time in its history. By the registration deadline on April 4, 363 solo racers and 152 team racers had signed up – a total of 521 racers.
Rain on Friday gave way to a sunny Saturday morning and temperatures rose into the low 60s by the start of the triathlon at 11 a.m. Due to Friday’s rainfall, the Greenbrier River was running at a higher level than last year, helping the racers paddle down the Greenbrier in the the four-mile kayak/canoe leg of the race.
The faster river condition contributed to faster winning times. Solo racer Ben Lawry, 47, of Roanoke, Virginia, was the overall winner with a time of 1:23:16. Lawry’s time bested Chris Pottowsky’s winning time from last year by nearly nine minutes. Anita Swanson, 53, of Fayetteville, repeated as the overall female winner with a time of 1:48:10. Swanson finished this year’s race 36 seconds faster than her winning effort last year.
The gap between the best Female and Male Team times narrowed to within a minute this year. More than three minutes separated the best Female and Male Team times last year. Office Hermits, last year’s second place Male Team, won on Saturday with a time of 1:38:03. Wicked Fast Mamas repeated as Female Team winners with a time of 1:38:48.
Cave Run Outdoor Center, composed of April and John Haight, of Cave Run Lake, Kentucky, took first place in the Team Coed division with a time of 1:36:31.
“My husband and I love this event,” April Haight emailed. “We participated in this event for many years – with a little break for childbirth. We have visited Marlinton outside of the race date on several occasions. The race is why we first visited Marlinton. We have really enjoyed all of our visits and look forward to more.”
Team H2 J won the Family Team division with a time of 1:40:40.
In the Female Masters division, Karen Arthur, 50, of Portsmouth, Ohio finished first with a time of 2:00:07. Ray Legge, 52, of Winchester, Virginia, won the Male Masters division with a time of 1:35:06.
Legge returned to the race after a two-year hiatus.
“I had a great time in this year’s race,” Legge wrote in an email. “I have competed in the race almost 10 times, winning the solo division seven, but have not been able to compete in the last two years due to injuries. It has been a long road back as I am 52 years old, and I was very happy to return. I participate in such races as they offer an unusual opportunity to combine many of my interests – running, paddling, biking, spending time outside, and seeing new areas. I compete in similar off-road triathlons and the normal swim-bike-run triathlons throughout the eastern U.S.”
“The GGRR has grown to a size larger than most,” Legge wrote. “This race offers a challenging and beautiful course, a reasonable cost, intense competition and terrific volunteers. I especially want to thank the race volunteers; their work before, during and after the event makes it all possible. Every race volunteer – and I think I spoke to almost every one – treated me like a friend. The race has a small town feel, with other unique touches, such as the pre-race warm-up offered by Robin Demarki.”
In the Male Senior Masters division, Bill Simmons, of St. Albans, took home first place with a time of 1:57:35.
Simmons started racing last year at age 62.
“I like the variety in the race where you are competing in three events all rolled into one,” Simmons emailed. “I have wanted to participate in the event for years and began running last winter so I could participate. Last year’s event was the first for any kind of race for me. The other races like this are also fun because they are all a little different. One of the great aspects of this kind of race is the team competition because it encourages family and friends to compete on many levels of physical capabilities.”
Ryan also began competing in middle age.
“I took up racing rather late in life (age 49) and enjoy it for many reasons, such as: it’s fun, keeps me fit and strong, to test and challenge myself, let’s me ‘play outside’ with like-minded folks, camaraderie and support of fellow racers, usually supports a worthwhile cause, and the way I feel after a race,” Ryan wrote.
“GGRR may be my favorite race of all. The spirit of the race is beautiful-the town, the people, the live music the amazing food, warm up exercise/dancing in front of the gazebo to live music before the race begins, and finally, the river. Every year the river is different – you never know what it will be. So high and fast that you fly downstream and have to watch you don’t miss the take-out, or maybe so low that some people have to get out of their boats and pull them in spots. Or, like this year, just perfect, with the blue sky, white clouds, and colorful boats behind and in front as far as your eye can see (if you are a middle-of-the packer like me). When I was on the river Saturday, I just kept feeling so lucky just to be there.
“I dearly love this race in Pocahontas County – I tell everyone about it, and I hope to keep participating for years to come.”
The Greenbrier River Trail Association raises funds and sponsors the event every year. Several other organizations assisted with the race, including the Pocahontas County High School Tourism Club, the Marlinton Woman’s Club, Future Farmers of America, Boy Scouts and Cub Scout Pack 33. Several individuals provided logistical assistance, as well.
Race Director Brenda Cochran said the volunteers make the race successful.
“We have the best group of volunteers anywhere in the world,” she said. “I would put them up against anybody. It’s just a group of people that we grab who love the race. They all pull it together and make it happen. I couldn’t do it without all of them.”
For complete race results, see tristateracer.com.